After working at Phillips in New York, The Zenith Master of Chronographs The show arrived in Los Angeles a few weeks ago. Housed in Westtime’s stunning new space facing Rodeo Drive, the exhibition serves as an interactive timeline of the brand’s rich history of chronographs spanning the early 1900s to the present day. Naturally, the history inside captured the genius and I was completely captivated by the prospect of seeing these historic and vintage watches without the protective glass in between. If you weren’t able to catch the show, don’t worry because I spent some time with and photographed these truly historic Zenith chronographs.
I was immediately drawn to the long-time favorite diving chronograph from the late 1960s, which exudes an effortless and timeless design. The A277 was the last of Zenith’s manual-wind chronographs and was only produced between 1968-1970. Of course, the launch of the El Primero in 1969 was the brand’s focus at the time so it’s no surprise that the A277 had such a short lifespan. Details such as the reverse panda dial and original Gay Freres ladder bracelet emphasize a unique wabi-sabi only possible through the natural patina of time.
Would it be a good idea to ask for it to be re-released? I’m usually wary of how much is lost in translation, but Zenith’s track record of reissues has been excellent so far.
The A3736 is another “super sub sea” diving chrono from this era, a bit quirky with its internal rotating bezel operated by the crown at 10 o’clock. The movement is a manual-wind call. 146HP, which is the same as the A277, both of which were produced in the late 60s/early 70s. I know it comes in two funkier colorways, but the reverse panda with orange lollipop chronograph seconds hand is perfect.
Of course there were also many dressier chronographs in the era before the El Primero. This 18k rose gold Z171 on display is a picture-perfect example of a beautiful fruity design. Made from the versatile 146D, this iteration features blued hands that are still striking after 55 years.
And then, of course, came the iconic El Primero in 1969. Naturally, the Zenith Master of Chronographs exhibition featured some exemplary early El Primero watches. The first of the trio is an early A384, which I’ve never seen in the metal before, and while it’s old news, it’s impressive how true it is to the reissued original from a few years back. The golden G381 and the tricolor A386 are two other ubiquitous examples from El Prairie’s early days.
The “Master of Chronographs” exhibition actually looks back decades before the aforementioned watches. Historical pocket watches from 1900 and 1910 and a pair of gold mono-pusher chronographs from 1920 are truly museum pieces that predate a world war or two, which is remarkable to consider. Of course Zenith used the show to showcase their new watches such as the Chronomaster Original and Defy Extreme. These are familiar watches to enthusiasts, but seeing them in the context of such a thoughtfully designed interactive timeline reframed the Zenith for me.
You can learn more about Zenith’s old and new watches zenith-watches.com.